TELEVISION: Style Victims

A subversive British import, Absolutely Fabulous, debuts

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Edina is a fashion publicist -- and fashion victim -- a single mom trying to cope with a teen-age daughter. Patsy, Edina's best friend, is a fashion editor, a stylish bachelorette perpetually seeking a good time. Edina and Patsy shop, vacation and cavort together. And, oh, yes, they sleep around, curse, drink to excess and smoke cigarettes and dope. Lucy and Ethel gone awry, Edina and Patsy are the main characters in Absolutely Fabulous, a wildly successful British sitcom about to make its U.S. debut. Beginning with a 12- episode marathon this Sunday (with weekly reruns of each episode), AbFab, as the Brits call it, will air on cable's Comedy Central.

In an era of aggressive abstemiousness, we can be grateful to Comedy Central for picking up AbFab, even if it is a bit of a disappointment. The playing is broad, not all the references travel well, and seeing two middle-age women get tipsy -- and even falling-down drunk -- can quickly become tiresome. Still, the show delivers risque humor (Patsy to Edina: "Have you got some knickers I can borrow, sweetie? I didn't get home last night"). Trendiness is neatly skewered (Edina's into aromatherapy, reflexology and rebirthing). And the stars are abfab. Jennifer Saunders, who writes the show and plays Edina, can evoke both laughter and sympathy just belly-sliding down a flight of stairs. And Joanna Lumley is delicious as Patsy, ogling a leather-jacketed adolescent, chasing a handsome stranger into an airplane loo or casually pulling a pregnancy-test kit from her purse.